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Two years ago, Daniel Boudreau began pushing P.E.I. politicians to do something that would outlaw conversion therapy on P.E.I.
Since then P.E.I. has passed legislation effectively banning medical practitioners from carrying out the practice. But Boudreau says it is still too early to declare victory.
Conversion therapy refers to the discredited practice or treatment intended to change someone’s sexual orientation or gender identity.
LGBTQ+ individuals who had experienced the practice in Atlantic Canada, sometimes as a result of family or religious pressure, have come forward publicly. Some have described periods of severe depression and mental health stress as a result.
Boudreau, a well-known local LGBTQ+ activist, had not experienced the practice himself, but had heard "murmurs of stories happening in P.E.I." In November 2018, Boudreau helped then third-party Green Leader Peter Bevan-Baker prepare a motion calling for a ban of conversion therapy, also known as “reparative therapy.”
"It's something that I was seeing happening slowly all around," Boudreau said about awareness of the topic.
The motion would pass unanimously in a rare moment of all-party agreement.
Following the 2019 election, Progressive Conservative Health Minister James Aylward would introduce the Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity Protection Health Care Act, which formally banned the practice amongst health professionals. The legislation also ensured that health professionals could not bill the province for conversion therapy-related practices.
The bill passed unopposed, making P.E.I. the fourth province to adopt legislation explicitly banning the practice. Aylward thanked both Bevan-Baker and Boudreau for their work on the bill.
The provinces of Nova Scotia, Ontario, Manitoba and B.C. have passed similar legislation.
In March, the federal government introduced Bill C-8, which would amend the Criminal Code of Canada to make either forcing an individual to undergo conversion therapy against their will or to cause a minor to undergo the practice.
But this bill has generated controversy. Three of the four candidates in the ongoing Conservative party leadership race have said they would block the legislation, which they view as overly broad and prohibitive. The three candidates – Leslyn Lewis, Derek Sloan and Erin O’Toole – have attempted to appeal to social conservatives on this and other issues.
Boudreau believes a sense of complacency has set in about conversion therapy. He said even P.E.I.’s new legislation does not specifically prohibit religious organizations from employing conversion therapy practices.
"People think this stuff is not happening. But it is,” he said.
Provinces that have put in places bans on conversion therapy:
- Nova Scotia
- British Columbia
- Prince Edward Island
A 2019 survey of 7,200 Canadian sexual minority men conducted by the B.C.-based Community-Based Research Centre (CBRC), found that 8 per cent reported experiences of conversion therapy.
In Atlantic Canada, this was close to 9 per cent.
Nationally, one-fifth, or 20 per cent of respondents reported experiencing efforts to change their sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression from health providers, counselors or faith-based figures. In P.E.I. and New Brunswick, 19 per cent of respondents said they experienced this. In Nova Scotia it was 17 per cent while in Newfoundland and Labrador it was 24 per cent.
Michael Kwag, knowledge exchange and policy development director with the CBRC, said research has shown that these practices are often linked with negative mental health outcomes later in life.
"That can include things like anxiety, depression, mood disorders. It's also linked with increased substance use and also suicidal ideation and [suicide] attempts,” Kwag said.
The Guardian reached out to the health departments of both Newfoundland and Labrador and New Brunswick. The New Brunswick Department of Health said the province would “continue to follow” the federal legislation related to conversion therapy but did not indicate further legislation on the subject was forthcoming.
The Newfoundland and Labrador Department of Health said it supported the federal legislation to ban conversion therapy.
“We are open to discussing and reviewing necessary legislative changes in collaboration with the community,” said the statement from the government of Newfoundland and Labrador.